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Foot back in the fold for PPP rebel

The council that once provided vigorous opposition to public private partnerships (PPPs) has bowed to the inevitable and embraced a project that will replace almost a third of its 92 schools.

Councillors in Argyll and Bute took the decision last week to choose Precept Consortium as the authority's provisional preferred bidder for a programme to rebuild 28 schools on 17 sites.

Some will be on shared campuses - including three sites to bring together Roman Catholic and non-denominational primaries, a policy that has caused so many headaches for North Lanarkshire and Midlothian.

Argyll and Bute is describing its plans, which will be backed by pound;171 million from the Scottish Executive over a 30-year lifespan, as a "radical non-profit distributing education PPP". Profits will be ploughed back locally and there will be educational representatives on the project company's board of directors.

But the council concedes that the venture "is a type of PPP - it is a private sector entity and is operated on a commercial basis".

This is reinforced by the leading players in the Precept Consortium, who include builders Laing O'Rourke and Barr Construction, financial adviser PricewaterhouseCoopers and legal adviser MacRoberts. Charles McLeod, a director of Precept, was closely involved in the PPP consortium that renovated Glasgow's 29 secondary schools.

Meanwhile, Dick Walsh, the council's spokesperson for education and lifelong learning, said: "This is not a done deal." The council is committed to a full consultation with parents, staff, pupils, local communities and other stakeholders.

In a notably cautious comment, Mr Walsh said: "This is potentially a huge decision for the council, and one which will not be taken lightly. All aspects must be carefully scrutinised."

As well as combining primary and secondary schools on shared campuses in Tiree, Lochgilphead, Campbeltown, Islay, Dunoon and Rothesay, the denominational divide will be bridged on shared sites which will bring together St Columba's and Rockfield primaries in Oban, Kirn and St Mun's primaries in the Dunoon area, and Hermitage and St Joseph's primaries in Helensburgh.

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